Chile is truly an amazing country. Nature, in and of itself, offers a myriad different possibilities from the Atacama Desert and the salt lakes in the north to the fjords and glaciers down in Patagonia. But Chile’s urban areas offer some incredible sights and experiences. And Valparaíso may take the cake as its character is quite unique. No wonder it is a UNESCO World Heritage site!
Valparaíso sits by the sea but it does not have the almost unmanageable scale of Rio. It is old (founded in 1536) but does not have the colonial feel of cities like Old San Juan or central Lima. And though it is large (the greater Valparaiso metro area is Chile’s second largest) and a center of portuary activity, it is not an economic center like Santiago is. It faces the ocean but it is not where tourists go for their summer beach vacation – that would be neighboring Viña del Mar. However, what makes Valpo, as it is referred to in Chile, so great is the charm it has which is a combination of its setting and that it has not been spoilt by becoming a megalopolis.
Out to sea
Valparaíso is surrounded by hills and exploring the city is not just exploring sea-level Valpo but exploring its hills. But before going up those hills, the best thing to do is to admire Valpo’s lay of the land by taking a boat tour in the harbor.
Up the hills
Valpo is quite famous for the funiculars (or ascensores) that help move people up and down its famous hills. The oldest funicular was built in 1883 and it is still in service. Many of these funiculars are an experience onto themselves with very unique stories and some are considered national monuments.
When we went, we were advised by some locals to keep an eye out as we went up to the hills as not all areas above are equally safe for people who look like tourists. We took the advice and went up making sure we were aware of our surroundings.
We were rewarded not only with views of the city and sea below, but also by some neat architecture in the hill we visited.
And then back at sea level
All this being said and done, I just enjoyed walking aimlessly through the city. Here are some of the images from our exploring “sea-level” Valpo.
My favorite souvenir from my year in Chile is a wood carving depicting one of the stairs and funiculars of this charming city. A great reminder in my every day of this unique town!